Thursday 16 Aug 2018 | 00:23 | SYDNEY
Thursday 16 Aug 2018 | 00:23 | SYDNEY

Israel and the Gaza flotilla


Anthony Bubalo

1 June 2010 09:53

No doubt the Gaza flotilla fracas will get a good chewing over in the weeks and months ahead. Here are five initial observations:

  1. The aim of the flotilla was to draw attention to Israel's long-running blockade of the Gaza Strip. In this regard, the goal of the organisers was to provoke an Israeli response rather than to avoid one, hoping at the very least that Israel would block the flotilla from arriving in Gaza. But while the precise order of events remains unclear, footage taken on board the flotilla suggests that at least one element on board one of the vessels was prepared to go beyond this and violently obstruct any Israeli effort to board their vessel.
  2. Israel's inability to anticipate this possibility is a significant intelligence failure. The inability of what are supposed to be highly trained military commandos to manage such a situation represents a major military failure. But there is also a political failure in the sense that the current Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, is hardly a novice when it comes to military matters, having been both the IDF Chief of Staff and head of Israel's elite special forces unit, the Sayaret Matkal.
  3. Coming weeks will see a variety of inquiries, claims and counterclaims. But even if an independent inquiry were to eventually fully confirm Israel's version of events, the reality is that Israel will have to deal with the fall-out here and now, chiefly the return of Gaza to the top of the Middle East agenda. Not just Israel, but also the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, the US and Egypt were all were content for Gaza to be sidelined, hoping that the blockade would steadily erode Hamas' authority. But this has always been a stalemate in search of a policy. The blockade was never going to be a sustainable in the long term, not least because the humanitarian situation in Gaza has been steadily getting worse, as this recent UN report makes clear.
  4. Jerusalem, Ramallah, Washington and Cairo now have a major policy headache. None of them want to do anything to recognise or reinforce Hamas' control in Gaza. Israel is already dealing with a rocket threat from Hizballah on its northern border and justifiably fears that Hamas control in Gaza is replicating this threat on its southern border. As a short-term measure to relieve what will be major international pressure over this issue, Israel will probably further increase the flow of humanitarian goods into Gaza, but this will survive only until the next Hamas rocket attack or military incident which again forces renewed restrictions.
  5. The fall-out will not be limited to Gaza: US-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian proximity talks are now in peril; Israel's once strong and pragmatic relationship with Turkey (from where some of the flotilla came) is now at breaking point; and as one Israeli observer has already noted, if reports are true that a leader of Israel's Islamic movement, Raed Salah, was among the injured, this may result in protests and unrest among Israeli-Arab communities in the country's north.